A 72-YEAR-OLD pervert who coached youngsters in table tennis has walked free from court despite downloading thousands of indecent images of children over a 20-year period.
After pleading guilty to 11 charges of making indecent images and movies of children, Michael John Smith, of Coventry Crescent, Poole, was spared jail.
Bournemouth Crown Court heard most of the sickening images were rated as category A – the most serious rating given to material of this type. Some were of children believed to be as young as five.
Carolyn Branford-Wood, prosecuting, said the pictures and videos were discovered on Smith’s computer after a warrant was executed at his home in November last year.
Smith told police he been downloading indecent images of children for around 20 years.
Mark Ruffell, mitigating, said Smith, who used to be a coach at Bournemouth Sports Table Tennis Club, resigned from the club when his crimes were uncovered.
The court was told Smith’s wife, who supported her husband in the public gallery, had suffered from bipolar disorder for around 30 years.
He had been her “emotional and physical punchbag”, Mr Ruffell said.
“He does not seek to excuse his behaviour by her illness but it cannot be discounted,” he added.
The court heard as his wife’s condition worsened Smith began viewing more and more pornographic material online.
“Over time they got younger and younger. He got fixated. He admits he has got a problem,” Mr Ruffell said.
Sentencing Smith, who had no previous convictions, Judge Peter Johnson said: “You downloaded these images over a period of time and some of those images showed distress on the children when sexual acts were done to them.
“It seems to me that just under three decades you have grappled with and coped with your wife’s serious disorder.
“This was the turning point in your life, which led you to turn to pornography which became more and more extreme and turned to young children.”
Smith was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and was ordered to complete a sex offenders rehabilitation programme.
He was also made the subject of a sexual offences prevention order to prevent unsupervised contact with children.
Judge Johnson said: “It seems to me, while it is a matter of fine judgement, that if anyone deserves a chance it’s you.”
‘They need treatment’
Deborah Denis, spokeswoman for the child sexual abuse prevention campaign Stop It Now, said it was not uncommon for online offenders to be spared jail.
“One of the reasons is that sentencing guidelines mean the offender would not be in prison long enough to receive treatment. Over the past few years judges have been leaning towards community orders and suspended sentences,” she said.
According to a report from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, an estimated 50,000-60,000 people in the UK regularly download child pornography.
Ms Denis said: “The most important thing is that they get some form of treatment and don’t reoffend again. Whether that is in prison or not is by the by.”